By Gia Gallone and Milla Smith
Love is a miracle, a wonderful gift and blessing. True love – to give yourself and gold from your heart, to trust and care – is a very rare talent. Clayton E. Smith Jr. had many talents, but his biggest was the talent of true love. He would tell his wife, Milla, “Girl, you have something that people cannot buy for all of the money in the world – you have a husband that absolutely adores you. You are the best thing that ever happened to me!”
History and love mixed in Clayton’s life in an interesting way. Clayton was born into the family of Clayton Smith Sr. and Eva Gabler. The Smiths descended from old families who settled in Delaware County during the Colonial Times, and were one of the pioneer families in Pennsylvania State. One of the oldest Gablers was recorded one of the first in Germany in 1265 .The Gablers have a huge genealogical tree with footprints and connections all over the world. Eva’s grandfather, Joseph Gabler, was a Brewmaster and one of the organizers of the Pilsner Brewery in Hazleton, Pa. Before that, in 1900, he was a foreman at Coors brewery in Golden Colorado.
Eva met Clayton Sr. when she was in the U.S. Army Aircraft Warning Service (1941-1945). The young couple fell in love and got married. Eva left this world a few months after Clayton Jr.’s birth, and her brother, “Uncle Walter,” was the only connection Clayton Jr. had to the Gablers. Clayton Jr. kept a copy of “Life” magazine from December 1955 with an article about Walter like it was a very rare gift.
Walter S. Gabler was a Lieutenant Colonel and an adjutant of General D. Eisenhower. Walter was well known for the ‘50s Yemen Oil Exploration. He worked for George Allen, AVCO director and former Truman “kitchen cabinet” member, and financier Victor Emanuel, AVCO chairman.
Red Rice in Hampshire, England was mainly used by the American Army as a planning center. In the 17th century, Red Rice was associated with the Errington family and the Prince of Wales (later King George IV). In the 19th century, Red Rice belonged to Godfrey Edward Miller Mundy. Young LTC Walter Gabler fell in love with the owner’s daughter, Maureen Angela Miller Mundy. He conquered her heart and brought his “overseas princess” to America.
Clayton Jr.’s life was not easy, but it was brightened after he met Milla out of states on Feb. 20, 2006. Milla was a Russian classical pianist performing on stages of East and West Europe. Clayton was a Vietnam War Veteran working for the Wilmington VA Medical Center, an “American Solder” with a free spirit, a heart of gold and a big talent of true love. That love overcame long distance, barriers and difficulties and did not end when God took Clayton home. Clayton and Milla fell in love from a first look, and went through two years of flights, dates, letters and everyday calls with constant questions from Clayton like, “Will you marry me?”
An exchange between Clayton and Milla on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2007 at 8:31 p.m.:
“My Dearest Princess, do you know that I love you?”
“You are the best man in my life. No one loves and has ever loved me like you do. No one has ever treated me like you do. No one has ever looked at me like you do. I can say many words like this and have told you many times that you give me much more than all the men in the world could! Every minute with you I feel like a real woman, someone special. I need you and your love, Clayton. You cannot imagine how much I need your love! I need it like the sky, sun, air and life! I cannot imagine my life without your love! Your love gives me spirit, energy and hope! I am very thankful that you are in my life!”
“My Darling, you are reading my mind with the exception of saying that I make you feel like a real woman; for it is you that makes me feel like a real man. You have expressed my thoughts, needs and desires complete with all the emotions and passions! Never have I thought that it was possible for me to feel as I do for you. If someone would have told me how I would feel toward a woman before I met you, I would have told them that they are out of their mind – it cannot happen. The first time we met and you walked past me, I sensed your presence without seeing your face. I do not know how but I just did. When I looked into your eyes the first time, I knew it was over from that moment on. If I am remembering the letter that I wrote, I said that you were the most beautiful woman that I have ever known, and something about how much I was in love with you and that I want to marry you. Every time spent with you went too fast. I did not want to leave you, I just wanted to be with you. Milla, you ask for my understanding, care and love, my tenderness and support. Everything that you ask is a part of my love. This goes without asking. Like you, I need to be loved and I want to enjoy life. I need your understanding and care. I need your tenderness and support. I need your love! We both want the same things. We both have finally found someone that is a mirror image of the other, Yin & Yang. It would appear that we fit together as day goes into night and night goes into day – a perfect match! I am madly in love with you!”
Clayton and Milla were married in Wildwood on Milla’s birthday, Oct. 4, 2007. Clayton always joked that it was a family tradition to “bring home a princess from overseas.”
Milla says, “Clayton brought me to America. He was my guide and teacher, and he helped me to learn the language, traditions, rules and laws. I was looking at life here through his eyes and fell in love not only with a wonderful man but also with his country, lifestyle, people, and our beautiful and magical seashore. Here is my memory, here is my home and here is my heart! It was a shock when God took Clayton home. Thank you, my dear friends, for your help and support. Thank you, Clayton, for my first Christmas present – my piano. Music was my savior and my therapy. Clayton was very proud of me and truly loved me, and his love still gives me strength.”
Milla played four public piano concerts in Clayton’s memory last year. She calls herself a “charity girl.” She played piano at events at Cape Regional Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Catholic Charities, Maud Abrams Elementary School and more. She took a job as an organist and a musical director in Saint Simeon’s By the Sea Episcopal Church in North Wildwood.
Milla is writing a book, “My American Happiness,” and has two publishers in Europe interested in it. Milla says, “My book is my and Clayton’s life, love story and family history, and my diary for the last 10 years of life events and impressions.”
Milla writes her own music and has in her mind a musical “Yes, Dear” love story of an American Soldier and a foreign girl, similar to her love story. She plans to play some of her music at a free concert, “Music of my Soul,” on Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. at Willow Creek Winery in memory of Clayton and all war veterans. Milla also has arrangements for concerts in Europe.
Milla is currently establishing her music studio, but has bigger plans. She says, “I started to learn music at the age of 4 in one of the best schools in the world with the oldest traditions, and I studied it for 20 years. I have performed and taught my entire life and have had a very rich experience. I would love to share my knowledge with children and adults here in America. My dream is to establish a special music school where students learn not only to play musical instruments, but also all disciplines in complex. I dream about this possibility to give a high-quality music education to all who are talented. ‘Dum spiro, spero’ is Latin for, ‘While I breathe, I hope.’”
Milla adds, “My husband Clayton did a lot in his life for people. He was saving lives at warzones as a combat zone medic. He was saving lives in the hospital and he was helping the people around him all of his life. I must follow and continue his life principle – to help people and do good for our community and our wonderful country!”